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Press Conference in Vienna, Austria (6/21/06)

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QUESTION: And to the president, Mr. President, you said this is absurd. But you might be aware that in Europe, the image of America is still falling and dramatically in some areas. Let me give you some numbers. In Austria, in this country, only 14 percent of the people believe that the United States — what they are doing is good for peace; 64 percent think that it is bad. In the United kingdom, your ally, there are more citizens who believe that the United States policy under your leadership is helping to destabilize the world than Iran. So my question to you is why do you think that you’ve failed so badly to convince Europeans, to win their heads and hearts and minds?

BUSH: Well, yeah, I thought it was absurd for people to think that we’re more dangerous than Iran. I – you know, it’s – we’re a transparent democracy. People know exactly what’s on our mind. We debate things in the open. We’ve got a legislative process that’s active.

Look, people didn’t agree with my decision on Iraq. And I understand that. For Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us it was a change of thinking. I vowed to the American people I would do everything I could to defend our people, and will. I fully understood that the longer we got away from September the 11th, more people would forget the lessons of September the 11th. But I’m not going to forget them. And therefore, I will be steadfast and diligent and strong in defending our country. I don’t govern by polls, you know. I just do what I think is right. And I understand some of the decisions I’ve made are controversial. But I made them in the best interest of our country and, I think, in the best interests of the world.

I believe when you look back at this moment, people will say, It was right to encourage democracy in the Middle East. I understand some people think that can’t work. I believe in the universality of freedom. Some don’t. I’m going to act on my beliefs so long as I’m the president of the United States. Some people say, It’s OK to condemn people to tyranny. I don’t believe it’s OK to condemn people to tyranny, particularly those of us who live in the free societies.

And so I understand. And I’ll try to do my best to explain to the Europeans that, on the one hand, we’re tough when it comes to the terror. On the other hand, we’re providing more money than ever before in the world’s history for HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa. I’ll say, on the one hand, we’re going to be tough when it comes to terrorist regimes who harbor weapons. On the other hand, we’ll help feed the hungry.